|Speed Racer - Episodes 1 - 11|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 22 April 2003|
For most Americans, "Speed Racer," adapted from the Japanese television series "Mach Go Go Go" by Trans-Lux's Peter Fernandez (who also produced the U.S. release of "Astro Boy"), was their first exposure to anime. If you ask your average Joe on the street about Japanese animation, it would call up memories of speed lines, simplistic animation featuring huge-eyed teens and American voice-actors trying desperately to match the cartoon "lip flaps" with rapid-fire dialogue that didn't always exactly make sense. This was, in fact, due to the Japanese scripts being rewritten and rerecorded in a period of only four days, a statistic that would shock most animation fans of the 21st century.
Artisan's release of "Speed Racer" on DVD includes the first 11 episodes, comprising five two-part adventures of Speed, a teenage racecar driver, and his family: "Pops," Mrs. Racer, meddling kid brother Spritle and his pet monkey Chim Chim, mysterious older brother Rex (who, unbeknownst to Speed, is really "Racer X"!) and mod helicopter-flying gal-pal Trixie. In this first collection of the 52-episode series, the motley group foil an evil engineer trying to steal the plans to Speed's fantastic car, the experimental Mach-5, escaped convicts, spies, and all manner of villains that could have stepped straight out of a Dick Tracy comic strip. The animation is crude but endearing, and was quite revolutionary for its time. The catchy theme song is hard to banish (particularly if one watches all 11 30-minute episodes in one go, which is one of the disc's options), and the bombastic announcer who narrates Speed's adventures lends a kitschy retro-feel to this cult classic.
The DVD transfer, re-mastered from 35-year-old footage, is as clean as it could be.
The colors are not as vibrant as one might expect, based on a decade of digital transfers of the latest Disney fare. However, considering the age of the print, the DVD is much clearer and sharper than the versions seen on television in the last 30-plus years have been and true fans will no doubt look past the dust and scratches readily to embrace Speed's uncut adventures after only viewing them sliced to ribbons on MTV for a generation.
In terms of sound, the disc is, not surprisingly, spare -- the re-mastered Dolby mono track is as good as, well, mono can get, but if you're expecting the richness and variety of a 5.1 mix, you'll be sorely disappointed. However, it is still much better than the aired versions, and a treat for aficionados of vintage cartoons.
The extras on the disc are very thin, and navigating them using the remote control can be a bit difficult at times--whomever Artisan contracted for the menu design seems to have grasped only the basic rudimentary concepts of DVDs menus, so expect to use the back button a great deal. There are text production notes, the equivalent of a few paragraphs each, detailing the origins of the series, the Trans-Lux adaptation and the American theme song, complete with lyrics. Considering how many conventions actor/producer/writer Fernandez and co-star Corrine Orr (who later worked together on the cult fave "The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers" in the late 1980s) have attended in recent years, it's disappointing that Artisan couldn't see fit to include any actual video interviews.
The most entertaining portion of the extras is the "Mach 5" section, which allows one to go through all the features of the space-age car, complete with voiceover narration from Speed describing each of the car's tricked-out features. The U.S. voice cast bios, as well as the Villains Gallery, include character shots and a brief sample of dialogue, which play over colorful backgrounds and samples of the series score. The "Speed Lives On" segment includes notes regarding the popular 1996 Volkswagen "Speed Racer" television commercial, although there is no sign of the spot itself. The segment on the 13-episode 1993 updated cartoon series includes the main title sequence, and almost next to no notes. Rounding out the features is a brief overview, including product shots, of "Speed Racer" merchandise
produced over the years.
However, despite the sparse nature of the extras, and the lack of the original Japanese voice tracks and translated subtitles, the disc will no doubt be a prized possession of any "Speed Racer" fans dying to relive their childhoods, or even just see how far anime has come in the last 35 years.